`Moolah Beach’ brings `Survivor’ vibe to teens

Aug 20, 2001  •  Post A Comment

If you thought “Survivor” was child’s play, now there’s “Moolah Beach.”
Fox Kids Network and Fox Family Channel will soon premiere “Moolah Beach,” a reality show that strands a dozen contestants ranging in age from 12 to 16 on a remote stretch of beach on the Hawaiian island of Kauii.
The contestants will compete in a series of missions for a chance to win $25,000 in cash, said J.D. Roth, host and executive producer of the show.
“It really became `Lord of the Flies’-that’s exactly what happened,” said Mr. Roth about the two weeks of production. “Certain kids bonded, and at different times they climbed over each other’s backs to get ahead. These are moral dilemmas that adults have daily exposure to in the politics of business, but for kids and teens to do it this early in their lives offered some hard lessons.”
After filming the series, Mr. Roth and Fox Family’s Joel Andryc, who is executive vice president of kids programming and development, decided to take the unorthodox step of producing two different versions of the show.
“Moolah Beach” is set to premiere Saturday, Sept. 8, in a half-hour version from 10 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. (ET) on Fox Kids Network and in an hour-long version at noon on Fox Family Channel the same day, with two decidedly different demographic targets.
“We never even considered a form of repurposing, because both shows have a totally different texture and feel,” Mr. Andryc said. “What happened is that when we started [editing] the show, it just really became apparent that the game strategy and competition aspects of the show appeal to Fox Kids Network’s core boy demos. At the same time, we felt that an hour-long version of the show would allow more time to explore the dynamics of the relationships and that Fox Family’s girl viewers would really react to that more strongly.”
The shared broadcast and cable network exposure of “Moolah Beach” also comes at an interesting juncture for Fox Family Channel, which was sold for $5.3 billion last month to The Walt Disney Co., which plans to rebanner the basic cable channel as ABC Family by next October. At the time the sale was announced (July 24), both Mr. Roth and Mr. Andryc said Disney executives-including Chairman and CEO Michael Eisner-had viewed a one-minute highlight reel of “Moolah Beach,” possibly raising hopes of future series pickups of the show once ABC Family takes shape.
“Mr. Eisner watched the 60-second clip reel of the show and told Joel, `Oh my God, this is brilliant,”’ said Mr. Roth, who conceded that Fox has yet to have in-depth conversations with Disney about future joint programming ventures, including “Moolah Beach.” “This show is going to work anywhere we put it, so I think Disney is still going to need strong programming to fill some holes [on ABC Family] once the transition begins. I’m not too worried, though. A hit is a hit.”
Mr. Roth, who was the longtime host of game show “Fun House,” said “Moolah Beach” is the “next logical extension” of the competition/reality series genre made popular by CBS’s “Survivor” and ABC’s “The Mole.”
“Whatever is mentioned of the first wave of hit shows in the adult realm like `Survivor,’ there is always a second wave of ratings among kids and teens,” Mr. Roth said. “`Moolah Beach’ is going to be part of that second wave as well.”
With the 12 kids divided into teams of two (a girl and a boy), the half-dozen teams compete twice daily in missions and rituals based on Hawaiian cultural history. One of the more dizzying “missions” is called the Makahiki Season, where one of the team members runs inside what looks like a giant beach ball and is rolled across the lawn in a modernized version of the 1,500-year-old ritual akin to “grass bowling,” Mr. Roth said.
“It’s amazing what we were able to find out about these old Hawaiian rituals over the Internet,” said Mr. Roth, who credited Todd Nelson of his production company, Slam Dunk Productions, with creating the game concepts for the show. “The idea in doing each one of these missions is to also provide an opportunity for the kids to learn about cultural history. There is nothing more FCC-friendly than that,” even though he said the show is not being listed by Fox as one that meets the educational and pro-social requirements of Congress’ Children’s Television Act.
Traditional kids advertisers Kellogg’s cereal and McDonald’s have signed on for multiplatform sponsorships on “Moolah Beach.” In addition to making commercial buys in the Fox Kids Network and Fox Family runs of the show, the two major advertisers have a presence on the networks’ Web sites (including links to MoolahBeach .com), which will also be running a sweepstakes during the series’ six-week run.
Mr. Andryc said the show is budgeted at around $350,000 per episode, close to what is spent on some prime-time reality series shot in remote locations. Much of the expenses came from leasing the 1,500-acre beach property (from a fifth-generation land owner), building a remote production tent and constructing bamboo huts (one for girls, one for boys) and the various game challenges.
Other physical game challenges include “Rock the Boat” and “The Pig Spit,” the latter of which forced the contestants to cling onto a 36-foot-long pig-spit rotisserie log as it turns over a faux Kalua grill and sprays them with water. “Rock the Boat” had the teams forging an alliance to load all their allotted coconuts into one team’s cart, with the weight slowing down their tethered boat during a short ocean race.
“What was interesting is to see how they were all friends at the beginning of the show, then having them forge these alliances, which created this uncomfortable feeling of betrayal and mistrust,” Mr. Roth said. “After the game was over, all of the kids broke down in tears because they knew they blindsided one team to win, so it was just one of the those life lessons where they pacted not to do that again.”
Ultimately, though, the goal in each game is to amass as many color-coded idols (the winner must get 10 idols, second place must get five and so on) as possible to place in the mouth of the The Great Kahuna. The Great Kahuna is a 10-foot-high wooden idol with a lottery-machine-style air bubble that shuffles the palm-size idols and spits out a color-coded idol that indicates which teams stay on the island and which team is banished.
In the final episode, the two remaining teams will compete in “The Search for Lost Idols,” a “large-scale” treasure hunt over land and sea. Like in the other games, the two remaining idols will be placed in The Great Kahuna’s mouth, which will ultimately reveal the team that shares in the $25,000 grand prize.
“By going with the lottery-type of the system, it took pressure off the kids from having to vote against each other,” Mr. Roth said. “It really all depends on the teams performing well and finishing each challenge in the best position to increase their number of idols and their odds of staying on the island.”